For football fans worldwide, the name Josef Martinez might not yet ring a bell, but if the Atlanta United FC striker continues at his current pace, he may well end up at one of Europe’s top clubs in the near future.
Blessed with incredible goal awareness and off-the-ball movement, Josef is ripping up the record books for goals per game, expected goal ratio, and other metrics used in judging a forward. He has not scored the most goals in MLS history just yet, but the frequency at which he puts away his chances is second to none. In his first season, for instance, Josef scored an impressive 19 goals in 20 games and finished the season as the 4th highest goal scorer even though he missed 13 games due to injury.
As far as Venezuela’s footballing landscape is concerned, Josef is a trailblazer of sorts. Easily the biggest name in Venezuelan football plying his trade in the MLS – a league that boasts just a handful of Venezuelan players but over 500 Major League baseball players.
Who Is Josef Martinez?
Born on the 9th of May 1993 in Venezuela, a country more renowned for producing baseball players, Josef was exposed to baseball as a child but soon realized that his talents and skillsets tilted more to the beautiful game of football.
Such was the young Martinez’s passion for the game that he would take buses three hours a day to and from training in Caracas. As a youngster, he traveled to Estudiantes in Argentina for trials but was turned down because of the FIFA rule that prohibited foreign players under the age of 18 from signing professional contracts.
Josef Martinez joined Venezuela’s most successful club Caracas Fútbol Club in 2010 making his debut on the 21st of August 2010 in a match against Estudiantes de Mérida. Coming on as a 70th-minute substitute, his team went on to win 1-0. His first goal for the club came in a 2–2 draw against Deportivo Petare on the 21st of November 2010. Over two seasons, Josef made 38 appearances scoring eight times.
Martinez was sold to Swiss Super League club BSC Young Boys on 3 January 2012 in a four-year deal. He made his club debut on 5 February 2012 in a game against Servette FC. which the Young Boys won 3 to1. Usually deployed off the bench to influence games, Martinez finally earned his first start for Young Boys on 21 October 2012. In 37 appearances, he scored 5 goals. The next season, he was loaned out to Thun where he scored 8 goals in 18 games.
Move to Torino
After playing for Venezuela and Switzerland, Josef Martinez felt it was the time for him to take a leap into one of Europe’s top leagues, so when there was interest from Italian club Torino, it was a prospect Josef was excited about. In June 2014 he moved to Torino for a reported fee of €3 million. He played his first match for the club in the third round of the 2014–15 Europa League, with a 3–0 win against Sweden’s Brommapojkarna. His first Torino goal came in the return leg of the same fixture.
He made his Serie A debut in a 2–0 loss away to Sampdoria on the 14th of September 2014. He scored his first league goal on the 7th of December, in a 2–2 draw with Palermo. Over a three-year period, Josef made 58 appearances scoring 7 goals. It became increasingly difficult for him to get into the starting eleven and was used as a substitute at best. Josef was at an age where most attackers do not fancy warming benches. He needed game time and it was only a matter of time before he found suitors willing to prize him away from Italy.
In February 2017, Major League Soccer expansion team Atlanta United made Torino a loan offer for Martinez. The MLS definitely isn’t as prestigious as the Italian league but it was ample opportunity for him to revive a promising career that was on the verge of petering away. He made his league debut on 5th March in a home defeat against New York Red Bulls. Josef recorded his first-ever hat-trick in a 6-1 win against Minnesota United FC. Incidentally, that was also the first hat-trick in the history of Atlanta United.
On the back of impressive displays, Atlanta activated the buyout clause in his loan contract for an undisclosed transfer fee.
Josef Martinez was named the MLS Player of the Month for March and after scoring hat tricks in two consecutive games against the New England Revolution and Orlando City SC, he was also named the MLS Player for the Month of September 2017. He ended his first season having racked up 20 goals in all competitions and finished fourth in MLS scoring charts and was named in the MLS Best XI for the season.
At the international level, Josef Martinez has scored nine times in 37 appearances for the Venezuelan national team.